Paul Diamond Blow's Rock Musician Resources

Shure SM-57 Microphone: A Must Have for Your Home Recording Studio!
A Million Soundmen Can't Be Wrong (or) Nothing Says "Rock Heaven" Like an SM57!

by Paul Diamond Blow

If you want to do some quality home recording, then you need decent microphones, and Shure's SM-57 mics fit the bill. These dynamic mics are high quality, rugged, extremely durable, inexpensive ($99), and are all purpose mics with great rejection (good for controlling leakage when recording). I would describe the "sound" of an SM-57 as full, meaty, tight, with very low noise and no distortion when recording loud instruments.

If you've ever played live at a nightclub with a full PA, you may have noticed that most of the mics used on the instruments are SM-57s. This mic is a real work horse, it can take a licking and keep on ticking -- that's why they are favorites with soundmen everywhere and is probably the most "famous" microphone in the world! The SM-57 is also used in recording studios, even the high end ones -- in fact, it's long been the general consensus among recording engineers and producers that the best way to get a slamming snare drum sound is to close mic it with an SM-57...

The SM-57 has a cardiod polar pattern (it won't pick up sound coming from behind it), and has a frequency response form 40 hz to 15 khz, with a high SPL (sound pressure level) making it a natural for close micing loud instruments -- drums, guitar amps, and even vocals. I own four of these puppies and I've gotten some great drum and guitar sounds using just SM-57s. I've used SM-57s to record to 16 track half-inch tape recorders, ADATs, straight to DAT, straight to my computer's multi-track recording programs, and even on my trusty old 4-track cassette portastudio. And when I'm in a pro studio, yes, you better BELIEVE that's an SM-57 on my Marshall cabinet.

Here are a few ways to use the SM-57 on different instruments:

Drums: For that famous slammin' snare sound place one of these bad boys about an inch above a snare drum's top edge at about a 55 degree downward angle and you've got yourself a killer, fat snare sound, it doesn't get much better than that. Placed the same way over a tom drum will give you an excellent "fat" tom sound as well. Although there are better kick drum mics available these days, an SM-57 placed inside the kick drum a few inches directly in front of the beater will give you a tight, punchy kick drum sound. I highly recommend using a compressor on these tracks while recording (especially if you're recording digitally), and even again in the mixdown process -- a compressor will really fatten up the drum sounds as well as even out the levels. I've also gotten decent results using a spaced pair of SM-57s as drum overheads, although condensor mics are a better choice for capturing drum cymbals. And if you only have two tracks available for recording a drum set, try a spaced pair of SM-57s placed six feet in front of a drum set about three feet high for a tight, full, stereo drum sound.

Guitars: Recording a great amplified guitar sound with an SM-57 is just too easy... just place one SM-57 directly in front of a guitar amp speaker (an inch from the grill cloth), crank the amp up, and you've got a rockin' guitar sound. You may have to move the mic around a little bit to find your speaker's "sweet spot," but the SM-57 will give you a sizzling, warm, and meaty tone. Oh yeah, baby... oh YEAH! If you've got two SM-57s and only one guitar amp to record, try close-micing the first SM-57, and place the second one about six feet in front of the amp for a even fuller sound. I've also used SM-57s to record acoustic guitars and have always gotten decent results, although it does always take a bit of EQing in the mix-down to get the sound just right. (A decent condensor mic is the preferred microphone for acoustic guitars).

Other instruments: I've often used SM-57s at band practices for vocals, they work quite well for live vocals running through a PA, although the SM-57's big brother the SM-58 is more suited for vocals since the '58 has an extra "kick" in the 4 khz range (where vocals really shine) and have a built in pop filter. An SM-57 on a bass guitar amp will give you a meaty, punchy, growling bass track with decent low end and I've also gotten some decent results using a pair of SM-57s on a grand piano, although it did take some extensive EQ in the mix down. Basically, the SM-57 will give you good results on just about any instrument, although for acoustic instruments and vocals a good condensor mic is the preferred choice.

The final verdict: I would recommend getting four of these mics for your project studio, especially if you are going to record a drum set. If you plan on recording a whole band at the same time, of course you'll need plenty more. If all you can afford is one or two mics, make 'em SM-57s. Don't waste your money on cheap radio-shack mics. The SM-57 is the perfect choice for your studio, especially if you are on a budget! And remember -- a million soundmen can't be wrong!